Following his debate performance and hospitalization with COVID-19, President Trump continues to trail former Vice President Joe Biden in national polling in their presidential race. The latest Fox News poll suggests that Trump is 10 points behind former Vice President Joe Biden, with Biden at 53% and Trump at 43% among likely voters.

Many of the battleground states in the race are closer, suggesting that a solid performance by Trump leading up to Election Day on Nov. 3 — or a stumble by Biden — might put the president back into contention.

But the news for the president may actually be even worse.

FOX NEWS POLL: BIDEN GAINS GROUND OVER TRUMP

There’s an old adage in polling: “The incumbent gets what the incumbent is getting.” It means that when analyzing polls, don’t look at the difference between the two candidates — just look at the incumbent’s number. That’s essentially where voters will land on Election Day.

The adage is based on the belief that voters have formed a fairly solid opinion about the incumbent, who is typically the better-known candidate. As for folks who say they’re undecided, they’ve usually decided that they’re not supporting the incumbent. But they haven’t thought enough yet to make a final decision. Once they do, they most likely wind up choosing the challenger.

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Like all adages in polling, this one is right — except when it’s not. It tends to work best when the incumbent is particularly well known, commands outsized media and public attention — and the challenger is basically an inoffensive, plain vanilla version of the party out of power.

If that’s the case, this year’s presidential race will certainly be one of the contests when the rule works. It’s basically a referendum on Trump.

And if you look at the statewide public polling, there’s evidence that Trump is not just in trouble nationally. He’s not doing as well in some of the “safe Republican” states where no one really thinks he’s likely to lose.

Take a look at the map below. This is based on statewide polling since August (where available).

The states in red are the ones where the polling shows Trump at 60% or higher in a matchup against Biden. The states in blue are the ones where Trump is at 40% of below. The other states are shaded based on how close to 40 (blue), 50 (white), or 60 (red) Trump is running. Trump’s number is shown in each state. No polling data is available in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

On Election Day 2016, Trump got over 55% of the vote in 18 states. Currently, polls show him getting over 55% in only five of the 18. Consider his best 10 states in 2016, where he got the support of six of every 10 voters:

The data from the deep red states shows just how much ground Trump needs to gain on Biden in the coming weeks.

These are states where Trump should be invincible — where his base should be dominant. But for one reason or another, his base is either feeling less warm about him than expected or he’s lost more moderate voters that he’ll need to win back if he’s to make a respectable showing by Election Day.

The challenges that Trump is facing in those safe states show that he needs to do things quickly to ensure that his anticipated wins in these states remain easy — and that he gains support in the battleground states, where polling suggests he’s losing ground rapidly.

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To be reelected, the president needs to continue to try to boost the turnout from his base. That means focusing on his core populist messages of immigration and support for economic growth that made him the surprise winner of the 2016 presidential election.

But Trump needs to do this while not alienating the group of center-right more moderate voters that I believe put him over the top in 2016.

A friend once said of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton: “Some people fall into deep holes just to show the world they’re smart enough to climb out.” It was truly the story of both Clintons — until 2016.

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And it’s been equally true of their nemesis, Donald Trump. He went from a New York City real estate tycoon who fell into bankruptcies to a casino magnate, and then reinvented himself as a reality-TV star. After his ratings declined he emerged as a very successful politician and president of the United States.

The question for Trump is: Will he climb out of yet another hole when election results are in — or wind up, like the Clintons, still in the ditch?

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